Ice Climbing - Part 4
February 23. 2003
Loren recruited Jens for some ice climbing, and we left early Sunday
morning. Our aim was to try something challenging, so we were loaded down
with a full on rack of screws, pins, cams and nuts. After a week of heavy
snowfall, we weren't expecting the joyous snow-free ice that Alex and
I found the weekend prior, but rather what could be best described as
"Survival Climbing" conditions.
It was very cold in the morning, and there was snow and some ice on the
boulders lining the approach creek. We slowly worked our way along the
river bed, fighting the heavy load and lack of sleep. At one point while
crossing the creek one of my feet slid off a rock and plunged into the
icy water. I instinctively caught my balance by plunging my other
foot in right after it. I had gone in calf deep, and even though it was
only for a second, I could tell that my leather boots were totally saturated.
Loren then promised me a cinnamon roll for every toe I lose to frostbite.
The approach continued to be slow and arduous. We arrived at the "approach"
pitch, only to find that it had melted out over the past week, no doubt
due to all the fresh snow. This forced us to continue up the boulder field
into a nest of snow plastered alder. I just put my hood on, looked down,
and started yarding on branches. Loren starts to laugh because he knows
how much Jens really loves scrumbling through brush and munge, and we
try and convince him that the nasty approach is worth it.
Jens emerges from the brush.
We finally arrive at the area, but the sight is not encouraging. The
climb we had intended to do is even more melted out than last week, with
no ice through the crux section. The rest of the climb, along with most
everything else, is also plastered with snow.
After a short debate, we decide to head over and check out the far left
hand flow as it looks to have the most ice. Breaking trail is a tiresome
affair through the foot of heavy snow, and we rotate leaders often.
The far left hand flow in March 2001. Photo: Phil
Loren approaching in much thinner conditions with our belays at the dots.
We dug out a huge platform at the base of the climb, and racked up. We
figured that we could do the route in two pitches, one up to the ledge
at 2/3rds height, and one short one to the top. To be expected, the scale
of the area would deceive us again! I decided to lead the first pitch,
and brought along two pins and a few long screws just in case I got lucky.
Dave starting off on the first pitch. Photo by Loren
The ice on the initial slab was thin and my tool sticks wouldn't hold
full body weight. I just tried to focus on climbing with my feet, and
not think about the exposure. I placed two mediocre screws at a short
steep step and climbed up, topping out into consolidated snow. The pitch
continued in a similar fashion. At half rope I sank two crappy screws,
and climbed another 20m of steep 1-2" ice-slush over rock. At that
point Loren came on over the radio and said that I wasn't going to make
it to the ledge. The only possible belay was on a pillar 30 ft. to my
left, and I was starting to feel really sketchy. I worked left and found
a little better ice. I placed a 17 cm screw that promptly bottomed out
half way in. I clipped it and kept on traversing. Just before the pillar
was a little rock outcrop, and I found a perfect lost-arrow placement.
I whacked it in, but it didn't ring back with a solid tone. I took it
out, and then promptly dropped it. Shit! I tried my other pin, and found
that the blade would fit in a tighter constriction in the crack. After
searching around more, I figured that with the rest of the rock gear I
could form a bomber belay. I hauled it up on one of my lead lines, and
then brought the guys up.
The belay was cramped, and Loren set himself a mini-anchor closer to
the pillar. Jens and I rearranged gear and ropes for him to lead the next
pitch. Thankfully, for it was a constant 23 degrees, Jens had packed up
my down jacket for the belay. We ended up leaving a baby-angle fixed here.
Jens lead the next pitch is great style. The pillar was funky aerated
ice, but he zoomed up to the top of it in no time. Above the ice tended
rightward and positioned him right above Loren's little slot. For almost
the entire pitch Loren just crouched into the wall while rivers of spindrift
and chucks of snow/ice pounded down on him. But fear not, for Loren would
seek his revenge on the next pitch!
Jens starts up the pillar on the second pitch. Photo by Loren
Following at the same time worked out pretty well, with only a minimum
of waiting for the person above. The next pitch was again, totally different
ice from the last. Snow capped mushrooms lead up a steep final section,
so we elected our frozen fungi expert (Loren) to take the pitch. With
enough mushroom climbing to last a lifetime on Drury Falls earlier in
the year, Loren has his doubts. We tell him that this is a Costco sponsored
climb, and that there is one of those sample stands at the top with free
cinnamon rolls. With that, Loren tackled the pitch and dispatched it.
In fact, he meticulously cleaned snow off of every move such that Jens
and I could fully enjoy the climbing! I guess we're just dirty rotten
Dr. IceShroom works his magic.
The pitch had some steep and fun climbing on relatively thick ice. At
the top we rejoiced with a quick session of the dreaded thaw
and then rapped off a convenient tree. This easily brought us down to
the ledge at the start of the 3rd pitch. From there we traversed off to
the climbers left and made another rap off a tree into the snow gully
left of the climb. From there it was easy snow downclimbing to reach the
The climb was 400 ft. tall, and our three pitches were: Pitch 1 (50m)
- WI 3 X, Pitch 2 (40m) - WI 4-, and Pitch 3 (40m) - WI 3.
The finicky conditions caused us to climb slowly, so we were pretty much
out of time, not to mention that my wet feet had had enough! The deproach
back the the car went pretty well. We made good time down through the
boulder field and followed a new route down a dry creek in the valley
bottom. It got dark, and as we were approaching the final river crossing,
Loren and I started making a series of small turns in direction. Soon
we crossed a creek that was flowing in what we considered to be uphill.
Yes, we were pretty much lost. We then came across the biggest freaking
tree we'd ever seen in the cascades. This giant cedar was maybe 15 ft.
in diameter and rivaled some of the Sequoias in Yosemite!
So.. Seeing as we didn't bring a compass, Loren and I tried using the
digital compass on our Suunto watches. As I rotated around, my watch read
off: NW - N - NE - N - NW - N -... and so on. Loren's was being equally
usefull, reading that every direction was S. Too bad we couldn't have
combined them, we'd almost have a whole compass! Jens wasn't buying this
technology crap, and started using his head. He figured out that we had
totally turned around and sure enough, 5 minutes of walking in the opposite
direction brought us right out to the log.
We all hopped on the log that bridges the creek, bouncing across it cowboy
style. Unfortunately for this cowboy, I accidentally hopped my "frank
and beans" right onto a big ass knot in the wood. Luckily the truck
was not far!